RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — A lawsuit filed Monday in North Carolina alleges that newly approved district boundaries for the state Senate divide a group of majority-Black counties in the northeastern corner of the state in a way that unfairly dilutes the voting power of Black residents.
Two Black voters drawn to a majority-white district are asking a federal judge to bar state officials from holding future elections under a new map they say illegally deprives them of the opportunity to elect their preferred candidates.
Plaintiffs Rodney Pierce, a social studies teacher from Halifax County, and Moses Matthews, a retired chemist from Martin County, are asking the court to order a redrawn of a map that includes the eastern North Carolina district where minority voters will have an equal opportunity to elect their candidates. option.
Lawyers for the eastern North Carolina residents also filed a motion to expedite the proceedings, asking the court to wrap up arguments and rule on the request for a preliminary injunction by December 1 — three days before nominees begin filing.
“The totality of the circumstances establish that the gerrymandering plan enacted in the state Senate had the effect of depriving black voters of an equal opportunity to participate in the political process and elect candidates of their choice,” the lawsuit states.
The Republican-controlled General Assembly adopted a Senate plan last month that appears to keep the GOP well positioned to retain its current veto-proof supermajority, according to redistricting experts and statewide election data. While Republican map architects took into account previous election data when drawing districts that favored Republican candidates, they said they did not take into account voter count data based on race.
Senate Republican Leader Phil Berger’s office did not immediately respond Monday to emails seeking comment on the lawsuit.
The state Supreme Court flipped last year from a Democratic majority to a Republican majority, and GOP justices ruled in April that the state Constitution does not limit changing district lines for partisan gain. But critics of the state Senate map, and the House and Congressional maps approved by Republicans last month, say they see some ways to challenge that plan based on their division of minority groups.
If the new state legislative maps hold up in court, they put Republicans in a good position to retain full control of both chambers for the rest of the decade.
The lawsuit states that “Black Belt” counties in eastern North Carolina have large, politically cohesive numbers of black voters who overwhelmingly support Democratic candidates. The surrounding area’s white majority is also politically cohesive, and plaintiffs say they historically vote as a bloc to defeat candidates supported by black voters.
North Carolina’s eight majority-black counties are divided between four separate districts under a Senate redistricting plan passed by the General Assembly. One of those districts, Senate District 2, where Pierce and Matthews reside, extends more than 160 miles from the Virginia border down parts of the Atlantic coast.
The lawsuit says it is “possible” for lawmakers to redistrict those districts into their own districts that are majority racial and ethnic minorities while adhering to the state’s redistricting standards. The model maps offer alternative configurations that plaintiffs say would be equitable, compact, and made up of entire counties.
Senate Minority Leader Dan Blue, a Democrat from Wake County, said the lawsuit provides a “ray of hope” for black voters in eastern North Carolina. Redistricting leaders criticized Republicans for rejecting Democratic proposals last month to ensure maps comply with the Voting Rights Act.
“The plan passed by the General Assembly in late October divides, fractures, and stacks Black voters to dilute their votes and weaken their ability to fully participate in the democratic process,” Blue said Monday, adding that the GOP map constitutes “fracking on steroids.”
Hannah Schoenbaum is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.